Not all Biden hugs were unwanted

Joe Biden hugged my younger daughter when she was 13 years old.

She won’t be having a press conference, telling the sordid details of her traumatic experience, but it’s an incident that cost me thousands of dollars.

The cost wasn’t for therapy to learn to cope with the horror; it was for the degree in political science she earned at Kent State University.

My wife and Ali went to see Biden in downtown Youngstown in 2008 when Obama-Biden was the Democratic ticket. After the speech, Biden worked the crowd, something few politicians do better.

He took time to talk to a child who was five years too young to vote, told her how great it was that someone her age was interested in politics and gave her a hug.

I can’t guarantee that hug was the deciding factor in Ali’s educational path. My wife is passionate about politics and so am I. I may be an entertainment writer, but I spend more time on Politico and FiveThirtyEight blog than I do on movie and music websites.

Ali also loved the 2008 HBO movie “Recount” (a dramatization of the 2000 Bush-Gore election) more than any child should, and I’m pretty sure she saw that before she met Biden. But that encounter with the future Vice President made a profound impact.

I’m in no way discounting the stories of the women who’ve spoken out in recent weeks against Biden’s behavior. Kissing an adult woman on the top of her head couldn’t be less sexual — it’s the kind of thing one does to a young child — but it’s incredibly patronizing.

I’m hoping Biden decides not to run, not because of his “predatory” behavior but because it would be nice to have someone fighting to protect Social Security who didn’t qualify for it a decade ago.

But it would be a travesty if the reason Biden doesn’t run is because of those recent testimonials from women made uncomfortable by his actions on the campaign trail.

Biden is a politician who’s always projected an “I’ll work for you” attitude. He’ll be hands-on, and he accentuates that message by being hands-on. If he’s shaking a hand — male or female — with his right, he’s clasping the outside of that hand with his left. He’ll throw his arm around a shoulder and maybe give a hug or caress a cheek, which he did to the 70-something mother of my wife’s best friend. She also wasn’t traumatized. It was a story she loved to tell.

Those who don’t like Biden will dismiss it as a gimmick used by a political shill; those who like him see it as an example of the connection he has to the people he represents.

What isn’t debatable is that Biden’s hands-on political style is more problematic in 2019 than it was in 2008 or in the 1970s, when Biden first was elected to the U.S. Senate.

It needs to change.

But I’ve also seen the positive side of that behavior. A hug that made one woman uncomfortable helped reinforce an interest in politics in another young person, one who grew up to major in political science and be an active campaign volunteer in college, to intern for her U.S. congressman in Washington, D.C., and to work as a field coordinator in the 2018 Ohio statewide races.

And I’m pretty sure there are other people’s daughters who have similar stories as mine.

It’s a shame that the legitimate need to eliminate the one hug will also eliminate the other.

Gray is a Tribune Chronicle reporter who generally covers entertainment topics.

agray@tribtoday.com

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